State of the Lean Blitz Blog: April 2012

Posted on April 29, 2012 | in 5S, Baseball, Basketball, Concession Stand, Football, Golf, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Manufacturing, Personal, Small Business, Sports, Time Savings | by

I figured that since the blog is between 5-6 months old now that I provide a “state of the blog” address – what has changed since the blog first kicked off, where Lean Blitz has been, and where it goes from here.

The original state – November 2011

When the very first blog post was written, the original state of the blog was based just north of Dayton, Ohio and the full gamut of writers consisted of, well, me. I was, and still am, a fellow with experience working in sports organizations (Atlanta Braves, Elmore Sports Group, South Bend Silver Hawks) as well as having lean/continuous improvement experience in traditional business/manufacturing environments. However, what I did NOT have was a complete meshing of having fully applied the lean principles within a sports organization.

The plan was to provide a source of lean knowledge as it would relate to sports organizations and small businesses, but then also what anybody and everybody can do around the house with lean to make their lives easier. My intended audience was essentially everybody that could read and had an internet connection (mostly because just about everybody lives somewhere).

My primary communication method would be daily blog posts, following a model similar to what is used by Seth Godin (post once daily, seven days a week, keep it simple). My communication media would include email subscriptions, Twitter, Facebook, and email. (I have a Google+ account, but merely as a placeholder for a future communication media if it becomes all the rage.)

I would attend a few trade shows and speak at events, pick up a bunch of followers/subscribers via conversation, word of mouth, communication media, and hopefully a few “sneezers” that would share my content with other interested parties. I assumed that everyone would LOVE lean and the idea would catch like wildfire spreading through a dry field.

It was my understanding that there were no sports organizations currently applying continuous improvement techniques such as lean and Six Sigma, so this idea of showing teams how to use lean to make business processes better appeared not only novel but also one-of-a-kind. I was very fortunate to have a guest blog post for Darren Rovell’s Sports Biz at CNBC.com written and selected by him and his editors to share with his readership. This suggested to me that there is an opportunity for teams to use lean to become streamlined off the field.

But underscoring all of this is the fact that I lacked that direct experience and portfolio of projects where lean has been used in sports organizations. That being said, lean is applicable anywhere. I knew it would work for sports too.

The State of the Lean Blitz Blog – April 2012

And now cut to the spring of 2012, over 110 blog posts later. It’s still just me writing the blog, but I would like to begin bringing in outside writers for guest posts. Lean Blitz has relocated from Ohio to just outside Augusta, Georgia. I have reduced the intended audience to primarily sports organizations and small businesses – there are already enough “home tips” sites out there that I need not add another one to the pile. This has allowed me to better focus my subject matter.

I’ve completed specific coverage of the lean wastes and started looking at the lean tools before realizing I need to back up and examine the 14 lean principles outlined in The Toyota Way. The foundation for lean knowledge needs to be set before I start getting into the “how do we do this” portion. We need to identify opportunities first before we just start fixin’ stuff – the whole “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” thing.

The blog has covered concessions and merchandise service cycles (I won’t say “sales” because there’s a lot more in the background that requires examination). Most of the attention has been sports-based, primarily on baseball. In addition to the features on the wastes, tools, and principles, I also wrote about the Baseball Winter Meetings and The Masters.

To follow up on that point, sporting events covered included the Baseball Winter Meetings and The Masters, the NCAA Tournament, and games by the Atlanta Braves, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Augusta GreenJackets. I also covered the University of Notre Dame football locker room (highest number of page views), the Ryan Braun steroid scandal, and Moneyball the movie.

More than I anticipated, I’ve looked at production processes for sports merchandise and equipment – mascots, bats, baseballs, jerseys, t-shirts and championship game apparel.

I’ve also been fortunate to provide guest posts for Mark Graban and his blog Lean Blog, and Lean Blitz received some coverage at the Baseball Winter Meetings by ESPN.com’s SweetSpot and Ben Hill with Minor League Baseball.

Something I have learned as I’ve gone forward is that there are teams (edit: a pair of teams) practicing lean and continuous improvement in Major League Baseball. They’ve hired outside consultants to come in and identify ways to improve business processes. I won’t say what teams quite yet (it will be part of a not-too-distant-future post) but I have had lengthy conversations with their executives and even had discussions with their consultants.

What I will say about my conversations is that our thoughts are in alignment – we have identified the same key processes and have had the same reactions and ideas for problem solving, even sharing some new ideas with each other.

The most effective media for communication has been via Twitter and email. Facebook has been mostly served as a place to send new posts for folks not subscribed via email to read. I have all but neglected Google+ so far. I didn’t have any goals for number of Facebook “likes” or Twitter followers because I’m more concerned with making solid connections with individuals who are invested in getting better instead of a whole bunch of folks that are only marginally interested.

After the Masters pin flag giveaway (run in conjunction with The Masters), I’ve learned that reaching out to individuals and teams in the form of cold calling/emailing is ineffective. Part of the reason for this is that lean is hard to explain in a concise manner via email/voice mail message without sounding bossy or controlling. This goes back to making a few solid connections with individuals and developing those conversations to explain what lean is and how it can provide significant improvements.

That being said, I would like to have something to share with individuals new to lean. I am in the process of writing a short e-book about what lean is without getting into the nitty-gritty details of how to implement it. I hope it will provide a high-level overview for folks who have no idea what lean is, but will at least get the mental gears turning and inspiring the desire to make things better where they see shortcomings in processes. All email subscribers will receive a copy of the book once it is completed.

One thing I would like to see more is commentary from readers. I am receiving adequate page views but I would very much like to read and respond to more comments and questions on what I’ve written. For that to occur, I need to better facilitate a forum for dialogue via blog posts or by questions received via email or Twitter. Whenever questions/thoughts/concerns are posted I make sure to respond as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Much in the manner of the five-whys, I want people to ask why instead of simply ignoring or pretending a problem doesn’t exist. I would love to have conversations with teams and businesses, even if the first question is “What the heck is lean?”

Now that we’re in the swing of the baseball season (no pun intended), most of my posts going forward for a while will be focused on the customer experience at games and with any situations where customer service and satisfaction is impacted by waste activities like waiting and defects. I concede that my familiarity mostly lies with baseball because that has been my industry of experience, but eventually I will begin transitioning to other sports. Of course, most business processes will remain the same – making a hot dog at a baseball game is probably the same as making one at a soccer game.

There are some additional “irons in the fire” that cannot yet be discussed but they will very well slightly alter the direction and content of the blog going forward.

And going forward for you, the reader…please ask questions! I’m happy to talk about lean and how it can help you.

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2 Responses to “State of the Lean Blitz Blog: April 2012”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    It’s great to see the progress of your blog and work. Thanks for sharing so openly.

    It will be interesting to see if MLB teams (and those in other sports) can shift from the experts telling them what to do to a model where the staff and employees are the ones participating in continuous improvement. Now THAT would be a great Lean model.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Thanks Mark. I appreciate you providing me an opportunity to discuss these things with your readership and bring them to the “lean mainstream.” 😀

      Without spilling too many of the beans, I did like the work the consultants were doing with the teams – recognizing that they are teachers/facilitators and shouldn’t be the doers, and looking to train the on-site managers/supervisors in lean techniques so they can run their own events and activities. When getting started down this path this was one of my fears, that I’d be the only “doer” and once I leave the projects lose their support and fall apart. It’s great to see that this isn’t the case with the examples I’ve found.

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